ROMANS, Vlll, 2.
"For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death"

IT is of great importance for the understanding of this verse, that you be made acquainted with the two different senses that belong to the word law. At one time it signifies an authoritative code, framed by a master for the regulation and obedience of those who are subject to him. And so we understand it when we speak of the law of God, whether by this we mean His universal moral law or any system of local and - temporary enactments - such as those which were embodied for the special government of the Jews, and have obtained the general denomination of the Mosaic law or the ceremonial law. According to this meaning of it, it stands related to jurisprudence - established by one party who have the right or the power of command, and submitted to by another party on whom lies the duty or the necessity of obedience. The laws of the Medes and Persians - the laws of any country - and, in a word, any rule put forth by authority and enforced by sanctions, whether it has issued from the Divine Governor, or from those who have the reins of civil or political authority upon earth - All are expressed by the same term and in the same sense of the term.

But there is still another and very frequent meaning of this word, apart altogether from jurisprudence - a meaning applicable in cases where there is no obedience of living and accountable creatures at all; and a meaning in which it might be used and understood even by the Atheist, who denied the being or the power of a living Sovereign who presided over nature, and established the various successions that go on with such order and regularity around us. It is quite consistent with the use of language, to speak of the laws of nature - denoting thereby the process by which events follow each other, in a train of certain and unvarying accompaniment - Such for example as the law of falling bodies - the law of reflection from polished surfaces - the laws of the vegetable kingdom; and even in this sense may we speak of the laws of the human mind, as altogether distinct from that law of God to which it is morally and rightfully subject in the way of jurisprudence. By one of these laws its thoughts follow each other in a certain order that might almost be predicted - so that if one thought be present to it, it is sure to suggest another thought; and this is called the law of association.

And so in proportion as we make an intimate study of ourselves, shall we find certain methods of procedure, in the order of which the feelings and the faculties and the habits of man are found to go forward; and all these may be announced by metaphysicians and moralists as the laws of human nature. The law which willing and accountable creatures are bound to obey is one thing. The law, in virtue of which creatures whether animate or inanimate are found at all times to make the same exhibition in the same circumstances, is another. At the same time it is not difficult to perceive, how one and the same term came to be applied to things so distinct in themselves. For you will observe that law, according to the first sense of it, is not applicable to a single command that may have issued from me at one time, and perhaps may never be repeated. It is true that this one commandment, like all the others, is obeyed, because of that general law by which the servant is bound to fulfil the will of his master. Yet you would not say of the special commandment itself that it was a law; nor does it attain the rank of such a denomination, unless the thing enjoined by it be a habit or a practice of invariable observation.

Thus the order that the door of each apartment shall be shut in the act of leaving it - or that none of the family shall be missing after a particular hour in the evening - or that Sabbath shall be spent by all the domestics either in church or in the exercises of household piety - These may be characterised as the laws of the family - not the random and fortuitous orders of the current day, but orders of standing force and obligation for all the days of the year; and in virtue of which you may be sure to find the same uniform conduct on the part of those who are subject to the law, in the same certain circumstances that the law hath specified. Now it is this common circumstance of uniformity, which hath so extended the application of the term law, as to present it to us in the second verse which I have endeavoured to explain. Should you drop a piece of heavy matter from your hand, nothing more certain nor more constant than the descent which it will make to the ground - just as if constrained so to do by the authority of a universal enactment on the subject, and hence the law of gravitation.

Or if space be allowed for its downward movement, nothing more certain or uniform than the way in which it quickens its descent - just as if bidden to make greater speed, and hence the law of acceleration in falling bodies. Or if light be made to fall by a certain path on a smooth and polished surface, nothing more mathematically sure than the path by which it will be given back again to the eye of him who looks to the image that has thus been formed, and hence in optics the law of reflection. Or if a substance float upon the water, nothing more rigidly and invariably accurate than that the quantity of fluid displaced is equal in weight to that of the body which is supported; and all this from a law in hydrostatics.

Now there is a like constancy running throughout the whole of nature, and any of her uniform processes is referred to the operation of a law - just as if she sat with the authority of a mistress over her mute and unconscious subjects, and as if they by the regularity of their movements did willing and reverential homage to the authority of her regulations. But you will perceive wherein it is thal the difference lies. The one kind of law is framed by a living master for the obedience of living subjects, and may be called juridical law. The other is framed by a living master also, for amid the diversity of operations it is God who worketh all in all; but it is not by a compliance of the will that an obedience is rendered thereunto - it is by the force of those natural principles wherewith the things in question are endowed, and in virtue of which they move and act and operate in that one way which is agreeable to their nature.

This kind of law would by philosophers be called physical law. The one is a perceptive rule for the government of willing and accountable creatures. The other is an operative principle residing in every creature, be it animate or be it inanimate; and determining it by its own force to certain uniform processes. Now the question comes to be, in which of these two senses shall we understand this term law in the text before us. We think that though it occurs twice, both of these must be understood in the same sense; and both indeed appear to be determined to the same sense by the relation in which they stand as rivals or as opposites. When the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus makes us free from the law of sin and of death, it is either by the authority of one master prevailing over the authority of another master; or by the force of one influencing principle within us prevailing over the force of another such principle.

To determine which of these two it is, we shall begin with the consideration of the law of sin and death, which though it comes last in the verse, is first in the order of ascendancy over the human mind; and from the nature of tile thraldom under which it brings us, may lead us to think aright of the nature of our deliverance therefrom. It must be quite obvious then to you all, that the law of sin and death is not a law that is enacted in the way of jurisprudence; but, like every other law of nature, it is an operative principle that worketh certain effects and emanates certain processes in the subject where it resides. It is neither more nor less in fact than the sinful tendency of our constitution; and is quite the same with what in the preceding chapter is termed the law of sin that is in our members. It is called a law, because, like the laws of gravitation or magnetism or electricity, it impels those upon whom it acts in a certain given direction; and has indeed the power and the property of a moving force expressly ascribed to it, when it is said to war against the law of the mind, and to be incessantly aiming after the establishment of its own mastery over those whom it tries to lead captive and to enslave.

And to keep up this conception of a law in the second sense of it, let it be remembered that death is as much the natural consequence of sin, as it is the penalty of sin - that it forms the termination of an historical process by a law that regulates the succession of events, as well as the termination of a juridical process under the power and authority of a lawgiver - that regarded in its true character as the extinction of the life of godliness in the soul; as the death of all spiritual joy; as the darkness and the misery of a heart, where vice and selfishness and carnality are the alone occupiers; as that moral hell, the rudiments of which every unconverted man carries about with him here, and the settled maturity of which he will bear with him to the place of condemnation hereafter; as that state of distance and disruption from God, which may now be supportable so long as earth spreads its interests and gratifications before us, but which so soon as earth passeth away will leave the soul in desolation and terror and without a satisfying portion throughout eternity - Such a death as this, comes as regularly and as surely in the train of our captivity to sin, and by the operation of a law, in the moral or spiritual department of nature - as the fruit of any tree, or the produce of any husbandry, does by the laws of the vegetable kingdom. The sinful tendency that worketh in man bringeth forth fruit unto death; just as the vegetative tendency that is in the foxglove bringeth forth poison. In both it is a fruit of bitterness; and in both the effect of an established law, - apart from the awards and the retributions of a lawgiver.

Now the way in which this tendency is counteracted, is just by an opposite tendency that is implanted in the mind, for the purpose of making head against it, and of at length prevailing over it. The law of the Spirit of life, just expresses the tendency and the result of an operative principle in the mind, that has force enough to arrest the operation of the law of sin and death, and at length to emancipate us therefrom. It is deposited within as the germ of a new character; and in virtue of which there are evolved the desire, and the purpose, and the activities, and at length all the conquests and all the achievements of a life of holiness. The affection of the old man meets with a new affection to combat and to overmatch it. If the originating principle of sin might be reduced to one brief expression, and so be shortly designed the love of the creature - the originating principle of the spiritual life might also be briefly and summarily designed the love of the Creator. These two appetites are in a state of unceasing hostility. The flesh lusteth against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh. The law of sin and of death warreth against the law of the mind; and this law of the mind in the preceding context, is just the law of the Spirit of life in the verse that is now before us.
Let me now come forth in succession with a few distinct remarks upon this verse, with a view to complete our understanding of it. First, You are already aware how it is the Spirit of God that infuses this principle into the mind, and sets agoing the law of its operation. Hence it may properly be denominated the law of the Spirit - even as the opposite process against which it has to struggle and at length to vanquish, is called the law of sin - a new tendency imparted to the soul for the purpose of arresting the old tendency and at length of extinguishing it; and called the law of the Spirit, just because referable to the Holy Ghost, by whose agency it is that the new affection has been inspired, that the new moral force has been made to actuate the soul and give another direction than before to the whole history.

But secondly - why is it called the law of the Spirit of life Just because he in whom this law is set agoing is spiritually minded; and as to be carnally minded is death, so to be spiritually minded is life. It is the law of the Spirit, because of the agent who sets this law agoing in tile soul. It is the law of the Spirit of life, because of the new state into which it ushers the soul. It is like the awakening of man to a new moral existence, when he is awakened to the love of that God whom before he was glad to forget; and of whom he never thought but as a Being shrouded in unapproachable majesty, and compassed about with the jealousies a law that had been violated. It is like a resurrection from the grave, when, quickened and aroused from the deep oblivion of nature, man enters into living fellowship with his God; and He, who ere now had been regarded with terror or utterly disregarded, hath at length reclaimed unto Himself all our trust and all our tenderness. It is the introduction of a before earthly creature into a region of other prospects and other manifestations, when now he can eye eternity with hope, and look up with confidence to the Lord and Disposer of his eternity. It is like imparting to him another breath, and enduing him as it were with another vitality, when, for the animal and the earthly desires which once monopohised all his affections, there spring up in his bosom the desire of spiritual excellence, and a love that reacheth unto all, and the new moral ambition that the image of the Godhead be again implanted upon his character.

There is now a satisfaction and a harmony within, a rightly going mechanism of the soul that is in unison with the great purposes of his being, a refreshing sense of that native enjoyment which goodness and righteousness and truth are ever sure to bring along with them, the sunshine of a heart at peace and of a heart inhaling the purity of joy and celestial aspirations - all which make him feel as if he had entered on a life that was new; and in comparison with which the whole of his former existence appears corrupt to him as a sepulchre, and worthless as nonentity itself. It is only now that he has begun to live, because now hath the law of the Spirit of life begun to operate in his bosom; and only now hath that well of water been struck out in his heart, which to him, even in the life that now is, is precious as the elixir of immortality and springeth up unto life everlasting.

And thirdly, when is it that this visitation of the Spirit descendeth upon the soul? When is it that this new law is set up within it; and so a power or a tendency is established there, that arrests and at length subjugates the old one! We think that the answer is to be gathered from the single expression of the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus. Whatever the import of the phrase in Christ Jesus may be, it is when so in Him that this law taketh effect upon us. As surely as when you enter a garden of sweets, one of your senses becomes awakened to the perfumes wherewith its air is impregnated - as surely as when emerging from the darkness of a close apartment to the glories of an unclouded day, another of your senses is awakened to the light and beauty of all that is visible - So surely when you enter within the fold of Christ’s mediatorship, and are so united with Him as to be in Him according to the Bible signification of this phrase, then is it that there is an awakening of the inner man to the beauties of holiness.

We refer to a law of nature, the impression of every scene, in which he is situated, on the senses of the observer; and it is also by the operation of such a law, that, if in Christ Jesus, we become subject to a quickening and a reviving touch that raises us to spiritual life, and maketh us susceptible of all its joys and all its aspirations. We have the immutability of nature’s laws, or rather the immutability of Him who presideth over the constancy of nature’s processes, as our guarantee for an ordination which can never fail - that he who is in Christ Jesus is a new creature, that he who is. in Christ Jesus walketh not after the flesh but after the Spirit.

But fourthly - what have we to do that we may attain the condition of being in Christ Jesus! I know of no other answer than that you have to believe in Him. I know of no other instrument by which the disciple is graffed in Christ Jesus, even as the branches are in the vine, than faith. And certain it is that a connection is often directly affirmed in the Bible, between the act of believing and the descent of a quickening and sanctifying influence from above. The Holy Ghost is given to those who believe. The promise of the Spirit is unto faith. In whom after that ye believed ye were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise. "While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them that heard." "Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free"." Jesus is the Light of the world, and the Light is the life of men" - All pointing to a law of connection between our belief of the truth as it is in Jesus, and our being set at liberty by a divine power for a life of new and holy obedience.

And again, to recur to the term law as having the same sense in this verse that physical law or a law of nature has. What a security does it hold out for the sanctification of every believer? If we believe we are in Christ Jesus - if we are in Christ Jesus the Spirit will put forth such an energy as shall overmatch the corrupt principle that is within us, and set us free from its tyranny - And all this in virtue of an ordination so certain and so unfailing, as to rank with those laws which have stamped an unalterable constancy on all the processes that are going on around us. There is nought that so arrests the admiration of philosophers as the inflexibility of nature - the certainty wherewith the observations of the past may be turned into prophecies for the future - the sure evolution of the same phenomena in the same circumstances; and how, without one hair-breadth of deviation, the same trains and the same successions will be repeated over again till the end of the world. It is thus that the seasons roll in their unchanging courses; and that the mighty orbs of the firmament maintain their periods of invariable constancy; and that astronomers, presuming on the uniformity of Nature in all her processes, can, to within a second of deviation, compute the positions and the distances and the eclipses of these heavenly bodies for thousands of the years that are to come - And not only so; but, throughout all the departments of Nature to which the eye of man hath had access upon earth, do we witness a uniformity rigid as fate, and that without a miracle is never violated - insomuch that some are the philosophers who have made a divinity of Nature; and who, conceiving that had there been a God there would have been more of freedom and of fluctuation in the appearances of things, have affirmed this universe, instead of a creation, to be the product of some mysterious and eternal necessity, under which all things move onward without change and without deviation.

But the Christian knows better how to explain the generality and the certainty of Nature’s laws, and that is not because Nature is unchangeable, but because God is unchangeable. What has been once done has been best done, and cannot be amended; and so in the same circumstances will it again and again and again be repeated. It is the perfect and unerring wisdom of Nature’s God, which has banished all caprice, and stamped such a reigning consistency on the whole of Nature’s processes: And when we find that each of these processes is denominated a law; and that this very term, in this very sense of it, is employed to express the union that there is between belief in Christ and the putting forth of a renewing and a sanctifying influence on the believer - I fear not lest the obedience of the gospel should lead to Antinomianism; but grant me only a true faith in the mind of an aspirant after heaven, and there will I confidently look for virtue and for holiness, Both the certainty of Nature and the certainty of God’s word are very finely expressed together in the book of Psalms. “For ever, 0 Lord, thy word is settled in heaven. Thy faithfulness is unto all generations; thou hart established the earth and it abideth. They continue this day according to thine ordinances, for all thy servants.”

And therefore would I have you to be ever dwelling upon that truth, the belief of which it is that brings down the Spirit of God upon your soul; and the very presence of which to the mind, bears a charm and a moral energy along with it. It is a thing of mystery to the general world; but to the Christian indeed, it is a thing of experience and not of mystery. Never does the way of new obedience lie more invitingly clear and open before him, than when he finds the guilt and the reckoning of his past iniquities, whereby its entrance was formerly beset, all done away through the power of the great gospel sacrifice. And never does he move with such alacrity at the bidding of the Saviour, as when under a sense of the purchased reconciliation, he feels the debt of obligation to Him for all his peace in time, and all his hopes in eternity.

And never does the vigorous inspiration of light and love and freedom come so copiously upon him from the upper sanctuary, as when praying with confidence in the name of Christ, he obtains from Him the presence of the witness and the comforter. The powers and principles of the new creature, are all alimented by these various exercises of faith; and so the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus makes him free from the law of sin and of death.

But to conclude. This freedom will be perfect in heaven, but on earth it is not so. Here it is not that freedom by which you are rid of the presence of sin. It is only that freedom by which you are rid of its tyranny. While you are in the body, you will be vexed with its solicitations; and surprised perhaps into an occasional overthrow; and at all events be annoyed by its near and besetting artifices, that you must never let down the vigilance of a prepared and determined warrior. The process by which sin leadeth unto death, consists of various steps, from the lust which conceiveth and bringeth forth - and at length, if not arrested, will finish in deeds and habits of sinfulness, which land the unhappy apostate in destruction. By the law of the Spirit of life, you will be kept free of this awful catastrophe; but not without many a weary struggle against sin in its incipient tendencies, that these tendencies may be kept in check - against sin in its restless appetites, that these appetites may be denied and at length starved into utter mortification - against sin in its tempting thoughts and tempting imaginations, that the desires of the spirit as well as the deeds of the body may be chastened into obedience, and thus your holiness be perfected. It will be freedom, no doubt; but the freedom of a country that has taken up arms against its tyrants or its invaders - of a country that has refused submission, but must fight to maintain its independence - of a country from whose gates the battle has not yet been turned away, but where the enemy is still in force, and the watchfulness of all is kept alive by the perpetual alarm of hostile designs and hostile movements. “But ye are of God, little children, and shall overcome, because greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world. And this is the victory that overcometh the world even your faith."
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